Both the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (Amazon, B&H) and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (Amazon, B&H) are so close together in many ways it’s hard for the low budget filmmaker to decide which is the better camera.
Watch the video:
Let’s compare the two in a real-world filmmaking situation to see which is truly the better value for money for short films, feature films and web series.
Let’s make certain assumptions to provide a level playing field:
- We are making a 15-minute short film with shooting at a ratio of 7:1. That means we’ll have 105 minutes of final footage.
- We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each. No permissions, so we need to keep our system to a minimum.
- Our final delivery platform is YouTube, though the image quality must look good on a cinema screen for film festivals. The final specs are UHD, 24 fps, 16:9.
- We’ll only be using a tripod and a slider. We want to use a gimbal but both the BMPCC 4K and 6K doesn’t have autofocus so we decide it’s not worth the hassle. We can’t afford a focus puller or wireless system. Manual focus it is.
- We need two focal lengths, a 25mm and 50mm in the full frame equivalent. One zoom lens would be simpler than two primes, but low light is a concern so we have to account for that.
- We are recording audio via one XLR microphone. Since this is common to both cameras, we will not account for this. But it is an added expense.
- We will be shooting Blackmagic RAW because this is easy on our PC. And it gives us the option to use film LUTs for a quick finish. We are not experienced colorists.
- We will not be using an external monitor.
- We need the cheapest system that will help us complete this project without compromising on any of the objectives above. If there is more than one option for best camera, we will base our choice on low light ability and future value.
Let’s start with the simple stuff, like prices (taken from B&H as of this writing):
|Camera||Price of Camera body||Price of lens||Price of Adapter|
We chose the following:
- Same lens for both: Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art (Amazon, B&H)
- Extra for the BMPCC 4K: Metabones T Speed Booster ULTRA 0.71x Adapter (Amazon, B&H) or the Aputure DEC LensRegain (Amazon, B&H). I pick the latter because we get our focal length range and it is a lot cheaper. I’ve used it personally and it’s fine.
Note: We are using ULTRA over XL because ULTRA is designed for APS-C lenses.
The results are different:
|Camera||Total Price||35mm equiv. focal length||Aperture|
Now there is a slight snag. The 18-35mm only gives us a 28mm wide angle view on the 6K and 27mm on the 4K. Due to severe gear acquisition syndrome we will adjust our expectations accordingly, and compromise. This is how the typical struggling filmmaker thinks. We should not expect him or her to be rational!
Ideally you would get the exact lens you want but wide lenses at large apertures are expensive. With the BMPCC 4K you can also use a non-focal reducer to get a better range, though you’ll have to verify if the BMPCC 4K will work with it.
Getting primes in the wide angle is also an issue. E.g., the Rokinon 16mm T2.2 Cine is $399. It will give you a 25mm equivalent on the BMPCC 6K, but isn’t sharp enough for 6K. If you pair it with a Rokinon 35mm T1.5 Cine DS for $549, you’re already at $948, and still not as well off as the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art (Amazon, B&H)!
If you want to learn more about the best lenses for both cameras, these articles will help you out:
- The Best Lenses for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
- The Best Lenses for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K
A final look:
|Camera||Sensor Size||H. Crop Factor||Lens 35mm equivalents||Aperture|
|BMPCC 4K||18.96 x 10mm||1.9||27-53mm||f/1.2|
|BMPCC 6K||23.1 x 13 mm||1.56||28-55mm||f/1.8|
The aperture equivalents give you a good idea about the depth of field and how the out of focus areas (bokeh) will look like. The BMPCC 4K sensor is smaller, but with the Speedbooster you get a larger aperture, and relative equal out of focus blurring/bokeh.
To learn more about focal reducers, watch this video:
Which is better?
Who knows? Only you know what compromise you’ll ultimately pick.
The BMPCC 6K has one unique advantage, and that is you can reframe if you’re shooting in 6K, or use the extra resolution as a zoom lens.
But if I were this straw filmmaker we’ve created, I’d pick the BMPCC 4K at this point. Low budget filmmakers face these two practical problems:
- Tight rooms, small spaces
- Poor locations
- Low light
The BMPCC 4K with a focal reducer would practically be more viable in this situation. Just based on my experience.
However, there are other things to look for as well. Let’s move on.
Comparison of video features
Here are some important video specs:
|Camera||Resolution we are shooting in||Dual Native ISO||Max. frame rate in 4K/UHD|
|BMPCC 4K||3840 x 2160*||400 and 3200||60 fps|
|BMPCC 6K||6144 x 3456||400 and 3200||60 fps|
*We pick UHD because it gives us 16:9, and that’s our final delivery.
Both the BMPCC 4K and 6K are similar performers in low light. The 6K has the larger sensor, but has more photo sites per square inch. The 6K has a higher resolution, and this will give you better results when downsampled for a 4K finish. You also get less noise. On paper, the BMPCC 6K definitely has the advantage.
Note: We won’t be recording UHD or DCI 4K on the BMPCC 6K because there is a crop, and you can only record Prores.
Color and codec are similar, but the data rates are different:
|Camera||Chosen format||Data Rate for 24 fps|
|BMPCC 4K||Blackmagic RAW 5:1*||61 MB/s|
|BMPCC 6K||Blackmagic RAW 5:1*||156 MB/s|
*The reason we are picking 5:1 is because it seems there isn’t a reliable card out there that can shoot 3:1 RAW in 6K. Please check the support page for more information. So, to be fair, I pick the same for the BMPCC 4K as well.
Image quality-wise, I have no doubt both will perform adequately. Any minor differences between the two will not be taken advantage of, because we really need to be a world-class cinematographer to do so. This, we are not.
Now that we’ve understood a bit about image quality, let’s look at how much all this is going to cost.
If you’re going to record in 4K, you need to know how many media cards you’ll need, and how much they’re going to cost. We have our limits for our short film:
- 15 minute duration
- Shooting ratio is 7:1.
What this means is we will end up with 7 x 15 = 105 minutes of video. And since we are shooting for three days we’ll end up shooting 35 minutes of video per day.
The cheapest media you can record to on both cameras is SSD via USB-C, so that’s what we’ll pick. This means you might have to get a cage for the cameras to hold the SSD in place. Since this cost is the same for both, I’ll discount the cost of the cage, the holder and the USB-C cable.
This simple table should give you a good idea about the media required:
|Camera||Media||GB required per day||Minimum drives||Cost of drives|
|BMPCC 4K||Samsung T5 500 GB||125 GB||2*||$185|
|BMPCC 6K||Samsung T5 500 GB||320 GB||2*||$185|
*Why 2? Because it’s a dumb idea to record everything to one drive over an entire day. Better to shoot for a while, then copy your footage and make backups during a break.
This is just the media card. What about the backup drive?
|Camera||Total drive space required||Cost of Backup Drive|
|BMPCC 4K||375 GB||$0|
|BMPCC 6K||960 GB||$45|
A 1TB regular USB 3.0 drive will suffice, though you have to account for transfer times. With the BMPCC 4K, you can use the 2 Samsung T5 (Amazon, B&H) drives as your backup drive. A second copy resides in your computer or laptop. Don’t forget that!
For a short film the cost of drives isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. If you can keep your shooting ratio to a low number you should be okay. For feature films or documentaries things change drastically.
Overall, the price difference isn’t very significant for our short film.
Battery life and Power
We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each. This means we need enough batteries to last us 12 hours. And we should be able to charge them during the night.
To know more about the shooting problems, watch my comprehensive real-world review:
Here are the numbers, when you can’t afford external power solutions:
|Camera||Battery life (Normal operation)||Batteries||Chargers*|
|BMPCC 4K||30-40 minutes||18||3|
|BMPCC 6K||30-40 minutes||18||3|
|Camera||Cost of one battery||Cost of one charger^||Total|
*Be prepared to wake up in the middle of the night to charge 18 batteries. Or hire an assistant. If you are shooting in an exterior location without reliable charging points, then be prepared for a world of pain. If you want to get a full night’s sleep, you might need 4 chargers at least. And remember to turn off the camera when not in use (not very practical).
Even though it might seem cheaper to go with smaller batteries it will kill you if you have to charge them overnight. We will need 9 dual chargers (each dual charger takes about 6 hours to charge one battery). You could go for bigger bricks to power your camera longer, but they are more expensive.
We decide (remember we are not rational) we can wake up in the middle of the night for two days to charge our batteries. We’ll do it somehow. Yeah!
As you can clearly see, this is where a lot of low budget dreams shatter. To work with cameras that have a poor battery life you need to power them with larger batteries. This means bulking them up to be cost effective or spending more money to stick with smaller batteries.
For this article, we’ve decided we can’t bulk up our camera because we don’t have permissions. We have to stick to small batteries and tons of chargers. Seriously though, this is not really practical.
Lesson here is, be very careful about the camera you buy, and don’t listen to the hype!
Time to total up everything.
Which is the better camera for filmmaking on a budget?
How much does it all cost? Here are the final figures:
|Camera||Camera and lens||Media||Batteries||Total*|
*Remember, we have to include some accessories, but they are equal to both cameras.
That’s a difference of $736, which can be used to buy additional lenses or better yet, spent on actors, food, locations, etc.
What about longer projects?
What if you want to add more lenses and accessories to your camera? Or what if you’re shooting a feature-length film or web series?
What we’ve calculated so far is just for a short film where we try our best to save money. For long-form work we’ll be spending considerably more for both cameras.
- Lenses for APS-C and full frame are more expensive.
- Storage requirements are a lot higher. Three times more!
Before we conclude, check out this quick table of pros and cons for each camera:
|BMPCC 4K||Cheaper, Larger sensor for 4K||MFT sensor|
|BMPCC 6K||6K resolution, better noise characteristics when downsampled||Crop in lower resolutions and 4K, more expensive|
For filmmaking, the number of scenarios you’ll be able to cover spending the least amount of money without sacrificing quality is key.
We need the cheapest system that will help us complete this project without compromising on any of our objectives. If there is more than one option for best camera, we will base our choice on low light ability and future value.
Let’s revisit our original requirements:
- We are shooting for 3 days, 12-hours each – both cameras have no recording limit.
- Our final delivery platform is YouTube, though the image quality must look good on a cinema screen for film festivals. – No problem!
- Our film will involve tripod and slider work – No problem!
- Manual focus for static shots – No problem! The Art lens is not focus-by-wire.
- We need the cheapest system that will help us complete this project without compromising on any of the objectives above – Both are equally good.
Which brings us to the tie-breaker.
If there is more than one option for best camera, we will base our choice on low light ability and future value.
- As far as low light ability is concerned, the BMPCC 6K should do better only if you shoot 6K and downsample. But that’s a small difference. At the low budget independent level, that’s not really an important factor.
- As far as future value is concerned, neither camera offers any real benefit over the other, because Blackmagic Design has the habit of releasing cameras too often. Next year something shinier will come along. You can get smaller, lighter and cheaper lenses for the BMPCC 4K. You can adapt cheap manual lenses with cheap adapters. The media costs in the long run are three times less. So I would argue, if you are continuously shooting, the BMPCC 4K will offer far greater value over the long term. 90% of filmmakers don’t need 6K, and that’s the bottom line.
So, my advice is, having suffered through gear acquisition syndrome multiple times over my 17+ year career, don’t let shiny words like ‘Super 35’ and ‘Cinema-quality’ fool you. Marketing is too powerful, and I understand the compulsion. When you are bombarded from all sides you will give in. You are human. Ultimately, you live by your choices, and you will pay the price one way or another.